The Five Precepts
The basic vows for Buddhists to live by are known as “The Five Precepts.” Teachings on the five precepts often accompany refuge vows as a guide for how to live as a Buddhist. They are interpreted in various ways according to the teaching and philosophical vehicle. Here they are explained by Pema Khandro for instructions to her students in the practice manual, “Presence as the Path.”
“Understand that ethical discipline lies at the very root of the teachings. Harmful actions lead to the experience of lower realms. Without the observance of your vows, the foundation of your life will rot. Ethical discipline supports all of your positive qualities…It is the vehicle that will convey you to liberation. ”
– Longchenpa, from the Pith Instructions
The Five Precepts – List and Explanation
- Avoiding harming other beings
- Avoiding taking what has not been given
- Avoiding sexual misconduct
- Avoiding false speech
- Avoiding loss of awareness
1. Avoiding harming other beings
The Tibetan phrase is: སྲོག་གཅོད་པ་སོང་བ srog gcod pa song ba
“Do not cut the life force.”
Committed to non-aggression, I resolve to avoid harming others, to avoid injuring the body or mind of myself and others. I resolve conflicts and tensions with an attitude of openness and loving-kindness, acknowledging transgressions and seeking reconciliations. I base my dietary choices on compassionate intention. I resolve to relieve the suffering of beings wherever I see it and to make compassionate connections with everything everywhere.
2. Avoiding taking what has not been given
The Tibetan phrase is: མ་བྱིན་པར་ལེན་སྤོང་བ – ma byin par len spong ba
“Do not take what has not been given.”
I do not take what is not freely given. I exert to avoid depriving others through my presence in this world, to avoid exploitation of others and to avoid squandering resources. I avoid misusing my authority or status, and I respect the autonomy, needs and rights of others. I take responsibility to help when help is needed, whenever I have the capacity to assuage that need. I resolve to be a giver more than a taker. I commit myself to generosity.
3. Avoiding sexual misconduct
The Tibetan phrase is: འདོད་པས་ལོག་པར་གཡེམ་པ་སྤོང་བ- ‘dod pas log par g.yem pa spong ba
“Do not be sexually impure.”
I remain always in ecstatic embrace within the dakini or hero (Khandro and Pawo) by respecting the intrinsic equality of myself and others. I respect my intimate partner at all levels. I recognize that celibacy and non-celibacy have the same principle: to devote the body to liberation. Therefore, I commit to wielding my sexuality for the realized union of body, mind and emotions, and for the integrity of self, other, community and society. I avoid sexual exploitation, manipulation, deception, discrimination, harassment, and objectification. I undermine misogyny by respecting marriage, relationships and sexuality. I respect the expression of the spectrum of genders within myself and others as it manifests according to each person’s art of being. I disentangle sexual relationships from asymmetrical power relationships in order to undermine the patriarchal systems that have exploited women, girls, and other vulnerable and marginalized people for centuries.
4. Avoiding false speech
The Tibetan phrase is: བརྫུན་དུ་སྨྲ་སྤོང་བ- brdzun du smra spong ba–
“Abandon false speech.”
I avoid taking refuge in the lie of dualism. Ever advancing toward less manipulative, self-protective, deceptive speech, I refrain from using my speech for rationalizing neurotic views and behavior. I refrain from all bigoted, sectarian, racist, sexist, judgmental, and arrogant speech that condemns others. I avoid harsh speech, gossip and useless chatter. I develop increasing capacity for deep listening and authentic communication. I respect confidentiality and respect the disclosures of others. I refrain from offering unsolicited advice. I recognize that withholding can be a misuse of speech. I speak up to prevent others from being harmed by racism, sexism and other forms of domination.
5. Avoiding loss of awareness
The Tibetan phrase is: མྱོས་པར་འགྱུར་བའི་བདུང་བ་སྤོང་བ – myos par ‘gyur ba’i bdung ba spong ba – “Abandon the demented state.”
I embrace the radical sobriety of the unaltered state and I give myself over to intoxicated appreciation of the phenomenal world. I avoid deliberate loss of awareness through substance use. I avoid mindless consumption of anything. I avoid spiritual delusions that put me out of touch with common sense, morality and shared experiences of conventional reality. I apply renunciation where necessary. I avoid what clouds my mind and adhere to diet, drinks and medicines which bring forth pristine presence, sanity, compassionate awareness for my body, mind, my family, my sangha, and my society.